Four Questions for Aspen’s Pat Hickey
In April of 2017, the International Union of Marine Insurance underwriters, or IUMI, released a report pointing to increased energy losses and accumulation risks for marine underwriters. Pat Hickey, Executive Vice President, Marine, at Aspen Insurance shared with Risk & Insurance some of this thoughts on IUMI’s findings.
R&I: Grounding losses in particular are increasing sharply, according to IUMI. What’s at play here? What factors are leading to this?
PH: This is a very interesting, and disturbing, trend where human error is most likely the root cause. The question is what is driving it? I believe it is multi-faceted; however, there is evidence that we have become overly dependent on electronic navigation and enhanced technology to make decisions for us. Accordingly, we are losing critical human interaction and judgment to avoid these incidents.
In addition, we must also consider general distraction due to mobile phones, tablets and other technologies unrelated to vessel navigation. In January of 2016, an incident occurred on the Mississippi River near New Orleans involving tank barges and towing vessels that caused $60 million in damages to the vessels and docks. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the captain of one of the towing vessels was on a personal call on his mobile phone just prior to the collision.
R&I: Given the losses we’re seeing, what changes might risk managers and insureds see going forward in aspects of the marine transit losses underwriters are willing to cover?
PH: Marine underwriters need to be flexible and creative, to cover global maritime risks, and very few risks are exactly the same. It’s incumbent on marine underwriters to know their customers’ exposures so they can build manuscript coverages around those unique risks. As losses increase, skilled marine underwriters will look to partner with their customers to minimize, or eliminate, those risks. When we partner with a dedicated customer willing to work with our risk engineers, there are few challenges we cannot solve together. When we do not see the expected level of engagement or willingness to address losses, we may consider utilizing exclusions and higher retentions. We prefer to provide broad coverage to partners who focus on risk management since that can drive down both losses and premiums.
It would be naive for us to suggest that ports operating 24/7 with increased accumulation exposure are not at risk.
R&I: Accumulation risk in ports, notably those in China, is a concern, according to IUMI’s report. The explosion in Tianjin was such a serious incident on many levels. How likely is it that we could see another event on the scale of a Tianjin and why?
PH: Tianjin was perhaps the perfect storm; however, we need to consider the underlying exposures and regulations that could contribute to a future event. The vast increase in the size of cargo vessels quickly translates to greater exposure per vessel, and significantly greater exposure at major port facilities. While steamship lines and ports do an exceptional job of quickly and safely moving freight, a relatively simple error of misdeclared cargo (e.g. hazardous materials) could end up causing a catastrophic loss. It would be naive for us to suggest that ports operating 24/7 with increased accumulation exposure are not at risk.
R&I: Discussions are under way in our nation’s capital on increasing the coastal areas that would be open to oil drilling. After a relatively calm period of drilling exploration, what are the risks and opportunities for energy insureds and their marine underwriting carriers should drilling markedly increase again?
PH: These are very exciting discussions for the marine and energy industries in general. The expansion would require the deployment of fleets for drilling with accompanying support vessels. Further, it is possible that some dormant equipment in the Gulf of Mexico could be redeployed to the coasts. This would also create additional employment opportunities for displaced Gulf oil and gas professionals, and ultimately boost revenue for the sector. As a direct result, marine underwriters would see immediate additional opportunities on these risks that could help grow premiums. There are additional risks associated with possible expansion and these include incidents that cause pollution, loss of life, habitat damage, or impacts to areas not prepared to quickly respond to disasters. Overall, I believe the opportunities outweigh the risks. I am confident that marine underwriters and risk engineers could help clients mitigate these risks.